Analyzing the Coherence Principle 1


Analyzing the Coherence Principle Kellie Schneider Boise State University

Analyzing the Coherence Principle 2 The Coherence Principle is the avoidance of extraneous material in a multimedia presentation that clutters the lesson and does not support the instructional goal. While adding interesting audio, pictures, and text may add emotional interest to a presentation it probably won’t enhance learning and may even be detrimental to the instructional goal. Extraneous sounds such as background music or other background sounds can be distracting to a learner. They can overload the working memory and other essential sounds, such as narration, are now in competition for cognitive processing. Graphics that are added merely for the purpose of decoration can also add strain to cognitive processing. The can cause distraction to the learner’s attention and disrupt the building of cognitive links between pieces of learning material. Enhancing a presentation with excessively wordy narratives or descriptions to create interest, elaborate on concepts, or include technical details can also distract from learning goals (Clark & Meyer, 2003). As stated by Clark & Meyer, “If the learner is successful in building a coherent mental representation of the presented material, the learner experiences enjoyment” (p.142). Learners will be engaged if the material is presented in an interesting way, but that does not mean instruction has to be particularly flashy or excessively long. Higher quantity of instruction does not necessarily equal higher quality of learning. Multimedia presentations should be kept clear, concise, and to the point. As an educator I have spent many days of my career in in-service training sessions. One of these training sessions, conducted in the fall of 2008, was an introduction to Dr. Ruby Payne’s research of the connection between generational poverty and success in education. It was a very interesting presentation because some parts of the presentation followed the principle of coherence and some did not. The

Analyzing the Coherence Principle 3 instructor’s method was a lecture with a PowerPoint presentation. Some of the more successful portions of the instruction included a simple slide with a diagram, labeled with key terms. The instructor would then talk us through the graphic. This provided a clear, concise explanation of those particular topics, without overwhelming us. Another slide provided a table from Dr. Payne’s book A Framework for Understanding Poverty. This table described how people from different classes tend to view different aspects of life. The table provided insightful information, and we were given a copy of the table. The instructor then provided us a few minutes to look through the table and ask questions. Overall the presentation was very successful. I had attended a conference in which we addressed the same information, but had a much longer time to learn it. Knowing how much information could have been addressed, I think the instructor kept the instruction very concise. There were no extraneous graphics or wordy descriptions and he kept the language clear and free of technical jargon. During the same school year I attended a staff meeting where neither the Coherence Principle, nor the redundancy principle, was understood. The presenters were a small group of my colleagues, fellow teachers, who had created a PowerPoint presentation. This presentation included clipart, which really did not add understanding to the presentation; it was merely for decorative purposes. In fact, it was silly and got the staff a little distracted and they started talking to on another. The presenters had created slides with background music and text, and then they read the text aloud, verbatim. I can recall this part of the presentation, but I can’t remember what the presentation was about. Narrating while the background music was playing was a clear violation of the Coherence Principle.

Analyzing the Coherence Principle 4 Coherence is the principle that ties all the other principles together because it encourages clarity and conciseness. The Contiguity Principle encourages this same concept by keeping words and graphics together in one area, keeping transitions simple for the learner. The Modality Principle encourages clarity by dividing the workload of sensory memory evenly between audio and visual senses. The Redundancy principle encourages clarity by keeping explanations to one medium, and not repeating information unnecessarily. All of these principles discourage the use of extraneous material or instruction methods and are linked by the Coherence principle. Psychologically, the Coherence Principle provides a generally smoother transition for information to get from sensory memory to cognitive processing. Adding extraneous graphics or sound will make learners pay attention, but appealing to emotional interest does not promote deeper learning (Clark & Mayer). The presence of extraneous material may also guide the learner toward inappropriate aspects of the material, leading him or her to focus on unnecessary information (Mayer, 1999). In general, I believe the Coherence Principle is sound. Working with young children has encouraged me to be clear and concise in my instruction, especially in multimedia presentations that I have created. This principle makes sense to me. It reminds me of how many times I have told my students that they have to raise their hand to speak in class. We can hear more than one person speak at a time, but we really cannot understand unless we can focus on just one person. I do think that this principle may be a little generalized and should certainly be viewed as a guideline, but a guideline that should be followed as often as possible. I work with sixth-graders and I have a required curriculum to teach. I try to bring out the most interesting aspects of that

Analyzing the Coherence Principle 5 curriculum and employ teaching methods that will keep my students engaged, but sometimes I just have to put a cute clipart or photo in a multimedia presentation. To some, this may violate the Coherence Principle, but I think it is important for an instructor to understand an audience. That cute clipart keeps the kids with me for just another moment so I can give them the real meat of the lesson. Included in this generalization, are the characteristics of learners. Clark and Meyer acknowledge that their conclusions are based on research of novice learners. Bartholomé and Bromme (2009) explore the depth of Mayer’s conclusions and how the coherence principle applies to different types of knowledge in various situations. I would also like to see how this principle applies, in a less general manner, to learners with strong background knowledge as well as low-ability learners and content-specific instruction.

Analyzing the Coherence Principle 6 References Bartholomé, T., & Bromme, R. (2009). Coherence formation when learning from text and pictures: What kind of support for whom? Journal of Educational Psychology, 101(2), 282-293. doi: 10.1037/a0014312 Clark, R. C., & Mayer, R. E. (2003). E-learning and the science of instruction. JosseyBass/Pfeiffer: San Francisco, CA. Mayer, R. E. (1999). Multimedia aids to problem-solving transfer. International Journal of Educational Research, 31(7), 611-623.

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